The Rangers are set for their first and only contest tonight, Saturday, in Vancouver of the 2014-15 season. While not all matchups deserve a look back at the previous season’s series, this one between the Rangers and the Canucks, in my humble opinion, does, for despite just two meetings last season, the Rangers and the Canucks had a jam packed, storyline filled couple of games.
In part one, it was Chris “The Kid” Kreider going up against his former coach who never quite trusted him in the early days of his NHL career, John Tortorella, and in the latter meeting it was St. Louis’ breakthrough which was overshadowed by the unfortunate circumstances of a Ryan McDonagh injury.
2013-14: Part 1
Heading into the first meeting between the Rangers and the Canucks last season, there were a couple of different story lines. One, and perhaps the most obvious, was the return to Madison Square Garden of then Canucks Head Coach John Tortorella.
On November 30th, when the Canucks visited the Garden, it was Tortorella’s first trip back to New York since his firing at the end of the previous season. In what turned out to be a somewhat embarrassing return for the former Rangers’ bench boss, who spent four full seasons with the Rangers, it was Chris Kreider who provided the salt to the still rather fresh wound of his release.
The later stages of the Tortorella era in New York were also the early days of Chris Kreider’s – the former Boston College Eagle and NCAA Hockey National Champion – NHL career. While all Ranger fans loved the speed and strength Kreider brought to the game right out of the gate, Tortorella was very cautious with young Kreider, and never seemed to quite show trust in his abilities. Despite Kreider’s flashes of serious talent, the two never quite jelled, which resulted in limited ice-time and minimal offensive contributions for number 20.
So when Tortorella returned on the final day of November, 2013, Kreider had a point to prove, and did he ever deliver. In classic “I told you so” fashion, Kreider proceeded to score a hat trick in his first game against the former coach.
Talk about “sticking it to the man.”
While November 30th was indeed the return of Torts to New York, it really became the Chris Kreider show, under what were only the most fitting of circumstances.
2013-14: Part 2
Let’s start with the obvious. After being relieved of his coaching duties in Vancouver the previous offseason, just like Tortorella, Alain Vigneault was hired by the New York Rangers, and on April 1st, 2014, Vigneault made his return to British Columbia. Unlike Tortorella, however, Vigneault earned a win in his regular season return, one which should have come with some extra sweetness, but instead came with a dash of bitterness with what proceeded to transpire in the waning seconds of the game.
And while the return of Vigneault was one story line, the breakthrough of Martin St. Louis was an even bigger one.
Remember when Martin St. Louis was traded to New York and failed to net a goal in his first 14 games in a Ranger sweater? Yeah, well those days finally came to an end last April Fools Day, when St. Louis beat Eddie Lack shorthanded for his first goal as a Broadway Blueshirt.
We of course all know what St. Louis went on to experience during last year’s playoffs off the ice, and we also know that the results on the ice became nothing shy of remarkable. But it was when the Rangers last visited the Canucks in their home town that St. Louis finally broke his Rangers scoring seal; an evening that was certainly a game to remember.
But as sweet as the win, and Marty’s first goal with New York were, those were undoubtedly overshadowed by the shoulder injury which Ryan McDonagh suffered, courtesy of a high hit from Alex Burrows. McDonagh went on to miss the final five games of last season, and when he was hit earlier this season during their game against Winnipeg, Mcdonagh again injured the same shoulder.
There is no doubt that even with the solid all around victory the Rangers came away with in Vancouver last year, the injury to McDonagh was the real takeaway story.
Back to the Present
The Rangers played two very impressive games last season against the Vancouver Canucks. This is a very different, much improved Canucks team this year with a new coach, and a world class goaltender between the pipes though, though, and it will certainly prove as a big test for the Rangers as they kick off their only trip to Western Canada this evening.
Excluding an injury to McDonagh, because we all know the Ranger blue line has already suffered enough from injuries this season, the Rangers should hope to carry over every other aspect of last year’s success against the Canucks into this evening’s tilt at Rogers Arena. They are certainly going to need their “A” game tonight against this Vancouver team if they want to start this road trip off on the right foot.
Jake Gittler is now in his second season as a contributing member of The Hockey Writers. After spending the 2014-15 season working in Communications for Adirondack Flames of the AHL and covering the New York Rangers here for The Hockey Writers, Jake’s coverage has been switched over to the Colorado Avalanche for the 2015-16 season. Jake can be reached via email at Jakegittler@gmail.com, or on Twitter @Jgittler_hockey.